Ring Of Truth – Episode 05

RUBY did indeed have the tea brewing, and she had the shutters opened, the range lit and the dredgers of flour, salt and sugar out on the well-scrubbed oak table which was where Cassie chopped and sliced and created her dishes.

She even had the stockpot on the boil with the veal bones Cassie had got from Lew Brody’s shop last night.

Ruby had, in short, set up the cookshop for what would be yet another busy day, and all this before Cassie had set foot over the threshold.

Cassie had difficulty recalling how on earth she had managed to get everything done before she had the tidy, methodical and conscientious Ruby Clements at her side.

She had only known her and worked alongside her for three years, but as is often the way with folk whose friendship and camaraderie is such that hours can pass with not a word necessary to fill them, she felt as if she’d known her for ever.

At present Ruby was slicing turnips to go in with the veal bones which would make for a nourishing soup. Cassie, with a smile and a “Good morning”, tied her pinner around her waist, about to fry Jem’s bacon.

But Ruby had seen to that, too. She tapped Cassie’s arm and pointed to the plate where two fried rashers still sizzled atop a wedge of thickly buttered bread.

Cassie shook her head in bewilderment as she passed the plate, and the mug of tea Ruby had poured for him, through the shutters to a hungry and almost salivating Jem.

“You’ll be doing me out of a job, Ruby!” she joked.

But in truth, Ruby had done her a real favour by ensuring that Jem and his breakfast, always plentiful no matter which of them cooked it, were gone from Chiswell Street before Ma Starling arrived.

What was more, as the clock ticked steadily past six o’clock, Cassie knew that Ma would be a matter of minutes behind her.

Not that Ma was unaware that Jem ate there, nor that she would have minded, but it wouldn’t do for him to be hovering on the doorstep when her girls had enough to do.

Cassie had a moment to pour herself and Ruby a much-appreciated mug of tea from the pot.

With Jem and his cart gone, his place on the other side of the shutters was taken by the first in a steady straggle of folk after whatever was left from yesterday.

In this case, that was half a pan of rabbit stew, put to warm through on the range by Ruby some minutes since and, despite Cassie’s best efforts, reduced on its second day of being served to a thick, gelatinous soup.

Still, it was shovelled into hungry mouths as if it were nectar on toast.

Chiswell Street was fortuitously situated on the main route to markets at Smithfield and Newgate.

So tantalising were the smells of freshly baked pastries, of succulent stews and nourishing soups Miss Cassie Miller created that, with a little imagination and a long-winded detour, it could be reasoned that the shop was on the way to the Rag Fair on Petticoat Lane, which was several twists and turns in the other direction, and even to Billingsgate fish market, which was twice as far!

Ma Starling’s cookshop, and more specifically Cassie Miller’s cooking, was favoured highly. And the good service provided by Ma and her girls was acclaimed throughout Spitalfields, in Bethnal Green and Clerkenwell and St Giles and beyond.

When the mills spewed out their exhausted hands and the factory gates clanged shut after a long day’s toil, many a tired and aching labourer, dead on his or her feet with aspirations of little beyond dropping into a dreamless sleep, would harbour a fancy for a basin of Miss Miller’s stew.

Then he would wearily tramp a street or three out of their way to get it.

But by far Cassie’s busiest trade flocked to the shutters at midday, when those who laboured in factories within a stone’s throw of Chiswell Street, came for what they called their “noon-piece”.

She had started baking pies for that very purpose. Meat and potato pies – or fish pies when she’d a decent batch of cod from Billingsgate market.

Pies which could be cut to order. Steaming slices would be wrapped in newspaper and handed through the shutters to a jostling line of hungry men who had just enough time to eat them on their tramp back to work before the whistle blew and their machines started.

Rare were the days when she’d so much as half a slice left afterwards, though when it was rabbit pie she always put one slice aside for Jem. It was his favourite, and on rabbit pie days he had twice the worth of it, as he also took the rabbit skins Cassie saved for him and sold them on to the clothing warehouse in Field Lane, who made rabbit fur-trimmed ladies’ gloves.

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!